The Story of Rube Waddell and His Drinking

Kevin BerthaCorrespondent IApril 14, 2010

Rube Waddell was a Hall of Fame pitcher in the Dead-ball era. He is credited with winning the pitching Triple Crown in 1905, leading the American League with 27 wins, 287 strikeouts, and a 1.48 ERA. Waddell led the AL in strikeouts from 1902-1907. He was known for being one of the first fire-balling pitchers, armed with a hard fastball and a nasty curve.

Hall of Fame baseball player, manager, and owner Connie Mack stated that his pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics, "had more stuff than any pitcher I have ever saw. He had everything but a sense of responsibility."

Yes, Waddell was somebody who you would call irresponsible. He was an eccentric person who suffered from the disease of alcoholism.

Waddell never had much thought for school, he would have rather been playing ball, fishing, or chasing fire engines.

As he grew up, Waddell was still a free spirit. He was the Dead-ball era's Barry Zito, minus the guitar and plus the velocity. Waddell delayed starts of games to play a round of marbles with kids outside the ballpark. He vanished in between starts to go fishing. 

Waddell was an alcoholic, that's a fact. But people speculate if he had another disease.

Bill James, one of the most famous sabermetricians known to man, suggested that Waddell may have suffered from a developmental disability, mental retardation, autism, or attention deficit disorder (ADD).

Waddell's alcoholism was widely known, and well documented. He allegedly spent his first signing bonus on a huge drinking binge. The Sporting News nicknamed Waddell the sousepaw, a reference to his drinking habit and his left-handedness.

Even though Waddell was somebody you'd call a "happy drunk" because of his fun-loving personality, his alcoholism led to clashes with teammates and managers. He likely would not be in the game today, despite his powerful left arm.

Waddell's frequent binges of drinking took a toll. He could not remember how many women he had married, according to Ken Burns, maker of the documentary Baseball. Waddell played for five teams in his 14-year career, moving place to place largely because of his alcohol abuse. 

Ossee Schreckengost, Waddell's catcher for the A's, was very close to Waddell. Schreckengost regularly went fishing and drinking with Rube. In 1905 and 1906, towards the end of both men's careers, Schreckengost began to squabble with Waddell. He was disappointed with Waddell's immaturity and lack of responsibility, as Schreckengost married a woman and started to become more responsible. Waddell eventually got traded to the St. Louis Browns, and the two men did not make up.

Waddell lost his prime career years and a best friend due to his drinking.

Waddell's last major league game was on Aug. 1, 1910 for the St. Louis Browns and he died in 1914 after contracting tuberculosis.

Rube Waddell lost a lot to his drinking; wives, a best friend, and a lot of his talent and potential. But Waddell gave baseball something it never had before: a fan attraction.